The Florida Department of Transportation is replacing the existing State Road 44 bridge over the St. Johns River, which connects Volusia and Lake counties. Construction began in July 2020, and is now approaching completion. The new bridge should be open by fall of this year.
At present, the construction team is working on finalizing the bridge deck, which will serve as the surface of the bridge on which motorists, pedestrians and cyclists travel across.
According to a spokesperson from the Florida Department of Transportation, the expanded lanes are expected to alleviate the dense flow of vehicle traffic as the population has steadily increased since the 68-year-old Whitehair Bridge was originally installed.
The new bridge will include a 45-foot clearance to accommodate St. Johns River water traffic traveling underneath the bridge, eliminating the need for a drawbridge altogether.
The existing midlevel fixed-span bridge, also known as the Francis P. Whitehair Bridge, is a movable drawbridge that was built in 1955 and requires frequent repairs to keep it maintained due to its age. The new bridge is expected to be an investment that ultimately cuts down on maintenance costs despite its approximately $45.4 million price tag.
Some residents of the area mourn the loss of the historic Whitehair Bridge, named by the State Road Department after the DeLand attorney Francis P. Whitehair, who was appointed to their advisory board.
“Its days are numbered… I will miss this old bridge,” Steve Munnell wrote in a Facebook post.
It has certainly seen better days though, and, at minimum, was in desperate need of an update.
Talks of replacing the bridge have been underway for nearly a decade, and once FDOT determined in 2011 that the cost of maintaining the historic bridge exceeded acceptable levels, the decision was made to replace it altogether.
In addition to construction of the new bridge, this project also includes the installation of two ponds to manage stormwater, reconstruction of the roadway approaching the bridge, replacement of the traffic signal at County Road 42 and S.R. 44, access road improvements and accommodations for a future 12-foot-wide multi-use trail across the bridge.
Traffic will be diverted to the new bridge after it’s completed in fall of 2023, though the construction of the surrounding area and demolition of the old bridge aren’t set to be completed until 2024.